N.Y. Butchers See Market in High-End Fresh Pet Food

butchers-jessica-josh at fleisher's organic meats

Following the latest trend in pet food, consumers are buying their meat and their dog’s meat from the same butchers. Today’s New York Times reported on the growing number of consumers who are sick of the recalls, the lawsuits, and what can only be described as Gawdawful ingredients, in the pet food industry and are taking their business elsewhere.

Food safety is in a state of crisis. With each new emerging tale of contamination, disease and death from food creates a more sinister climate of fear. Consumers are left to fend for themselves in a landscape polluted with chemicals, criminals, cheats, shysters and impotent government officials. The global market is not the land of plenty any more, it’s seen as a wasteland of corruption and greed.

Because industry and government are failing so miserably to protect the safety of food, whether it be for man or man’s best friend, consumers are taking a good, hard look at what goes on the family dinner table and into their pet’s bowls.

For Dogs, Entrees From Same Butchers Who Feed Their Pet Parents

Dickson's Farmstand Meats StoreFront

July 25, 2011/by Noah Rosenberg/New York Times

From the moment Mookie tasted his new dog food, he was a forever-changed Jack Russell terrier. He devoured that first meal, his tongue lapping even the underside of the bowl, desperately searching for more. And then Mookie, who is 9, started barking — at the refrigerator.

Dicksons-Exterior-Store

“It was like an affirmation,” said Mookie’s owner, Liz Wiseman, whose other Jack Russell, Melanie, had a similar reaction to the new food. “They liked it and it was good for them; I knew we were on the right track.”

Mookie and Melanie are beneficiaries of one of the latest trends for New Yorkers with pockets deep enough to ensure their dogs get only the best. To pet owners like Ms. Wiseman, who lives in the East Village, premium dog food is not good enough. Instead, they are opting for freshly made cuisine from high-end local butchers who already supply the choicest cuts for upscale restaurants.

Dickson's Farmstand Meats Store Front

These purveyors insist that their products, from grass-fed and locally raised animals, are not a gimmicky appeal to doting dog owners, but rather another way to promote sustainability of small-scale local farming.

“Our mission here is to get as much out of the animal as possible,” said Jake Dickson, the owner of Dickson’s Farmstand in the Chelsea Market, where Ms. Wiseman shops for her dogs. “Both in terms of profitability, but also philosophically — doing honor and justice to that animal.”

Every Wednesday, 6,000 pounds of meat arrives at Dickson’s from farms in the Hudson Valley and in Schoharie, near Albany — four steers, and up to nine pigs and seven goats or lambs, are all broken down by hand. Fresh meat lands in the display case and is also turned into charcuterie, while trimmings are churned into ground meat and sausage.

Dickenson's Farmstand Meats

“The dog food is kind of taking it to the next step,” said Mr. Dickson, 31, who demonstrated the “nose to tail” sustainability aspect of Farm to Bowl, his new dog food operation, by spreading out an array of animal parts on brown butcher’s paper. The paper quickly turned pink as it soaked up blood from hearts, tongues and livers. But the meat mélange also included a generous slab of New York strip, which, if it had not been faintly oxidized, Mr. Dickson said, would have sold for up to $34 a pound.

Like other butchers tapping into this niche dog food market, Mr. Dickson said that while offal and other cuts were perfectly safe for humans, he used to throw them away, largely out of cosmetic concerns or because of a surplus. Nowadays, he grinds them up, roasts them and combines them with seasonal produce.

Owner Jake Dickson in Dickson's Farmstand Meats

The product is sold fresh in one-and-a-half-pound, $10 packages as dog food. He sells about 100 a week, and according to the company’s Web site, the packages last seven days refrigerated and longer frozen. At one meal per pouch for a medium-size dog, Farm to Bowl is expensive — after all, a 34-pound package of Purina Puppy Chow can be had for $23.

But that has not stopped Ms. Wiseman, who described Mookie and Melanie as “your typical spoiled Manhattan dogs.”dickson's jerky

“They’re first — I don’t care,” Ms. Wiseman said, noting that she initially looked into noncommercial dog food after Melanie developed thyroid cancer. Now, Ms. Wiseman visits Dickson’s every other Sunday to stock up. Her dogs’ energy levels are up, she said, and the pets are healthy — and satiated.

Dickson's Farmstand Meats Beef Jerky

Indeed, Mr. Dickson and his business partner, Stacy Alldredge, a canine nutritionist, say their products are a vital investment in a dog’s health.

“If you think about logic, you have a real, live dog here,” said Ms. Alldredge, who also runs Who’s Walking Who, a dog nutrition and obedience-training service. “Of course, real food is going to be better for them. It’s like saying, ‘I’m an athlete, but I’m going to live on Power Bars.’ ”

josh farmer's market fleisher's organic meats

Jessica Applestone, an owner of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, N.Y., which has also gotten into the dog food business, has a similar opinion of processed dog food.

“If you’re not feeding your dog human-quality food it’s a terrifying thing,” said Ms. Applestone, 44, who began producing dog food at Fleisher’s shortly after the company opened seven years ago. “It’s very true that there’s much more of a movement, and we’re very happy to see it. People see that pushing a better diet for their dogs results in less vet visits.”

Fleishers-Meats-Organic-Grass-Fed-Grass-Finished-Sustainable-Local

The company produces $4 packages with four ready-to-eat two-ounce patties made of organic chicken and beef hearts, liver and tongue, and sprinkled with beef fat. Fleisher’s sells about 100 pounds of patties a week.

Fleishman's Organic Grass-Fed Fresh Meats

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, T. J. Burnham, the head butcher at Marlow & Daughters, has for four months sold $6 pints of his house dog-food blend: raw lean beef and beef liver, combined with cooked chicken, carrots, celery and barley, splashed with cider vinegar to aid in digestion. The shop stocks 20 to 50 pounds at a time.

marlow & daughters storefront brooklyn ny

Still, whether it is raw, pan seared, flambéed or otherwise elaborately prepared, not all dog owners are believers in foodie-grade puppy chow.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Linda Mascia and Janet Gritzka, both 64 and from Huntington in Suffolk County, admired the meats in the display case at Dickson’s Farmstand in the Chelsea Market.

Marlow & Daughters Amsterdam Market Brooklyn NY

The women inquired about the beef labeled picanha (a premium Brazilian-style cut) and laughed when asked if they would consider Farm to Bowl dog food for their dogs.

“No,” Ms. Mascia insisted, breaking into a grin. “I just stick with what the vet tells me — Iams!”

For her part, Ms. Gritzka seemed to go into sticker shock when told the price.

She stole one last glance at Dickson’s ruby red marbled meats and said, “That’s one very spoiled puppy.”

Mercedez at Marlow & Daughters

Good Views

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Good Reads About Good Eats

Fleisher’s answers a question close to my heart: How Are The Animals Treated?

I love this one. Fleisher’s answer to: Is It Affordable?

About Dickson’s: Dickson’s Farmstand Meats

Dickson’s Doggy Basic Blend They make all of their dog food with the same meats sold in the Chelsea Market shop and fresh produce.  All of the cooking, grinding and packaging takes place at the butcher shop.

Dickson’s awesome farms, doing things the right way: Dickson’s Farms

The wonderful Marlow & Daughters
Fleisher's Book
So, You Don’t Live on the East Coast, Huh? Bummer.

I know, I wish I did. Even just for the food. But, don’t despair, there are farmer’s markets across the USA and one in nearly every city in America.  Best of all, is the deep satisfaction of knowing that, not only is buying directly from family farmers helping them stay in business, but, by supporting them you are helping put crappy pet food companies out of business! Besides making your pets happier and healthier, I ask you, what could be better than that?

fleisher's meat

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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